by Matthew W. Baker
If in Tonopah. If in my sexless teens.
If in my mother’s dank basement—low
light from the one pull-bulb hanging
in the center of the room casting
shadows as I danced to death
metal. If rain came once a year and I spent
each storm absorbing the candied scent
of petrichor until I fell over,
sweet-drunk. If I never questioned
what swam by my legs swallowed
by brackish creek waters in summer, and each fall
the temperature cooled enough to drive
the ladybugs inside as if swarming the porch door
like a church congregation crowding around
a baptismal font in a small town stitched together
by pyrolatry, each new baby a living flame.
If half-way through the long descent
of a mine shaft the pulleys failed—my body
jerked, jostled, left weightless as the elevator cage
careened downward—then I would have praised
more of what I took for granted, savored
dust blown into my mouth from the barren
playa’s peeling of its skin. If the sun
burned blue, revolved around the Earth.
If melting glaciers lowered sea level, if
gender wasn’t a crime, if two people
didn’t die each second. If out of the cold, seemingly
empty nanometers of observed space
a voice rang, then I would have lived
someone else’s life.